Saudi Arabia's Women Lawyers Granted New Legal Powers As Kingdom Aims to Be More Inclusive

Starting on Monday, Saudi Arabia’s female lawyers will have expanded powers to work as public notaries, according to the country’s Justice Ministry.

After the changes are implemented, female lawyers will have capabilities that more closely resemble those of their male colleagues, such as obtaining a notarization permit and granting power of attorney. Previously, only male lawyers had notary powers.

Justice Ministry officials said that Monday’s changes are part of a comprehensive plan to make the country’s legal and judicial sectors more inclusive.

As Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman attempts to open his country’s doors to the world and diversify its economy, he’s launched a new campaign to give women expanded rights. For instance, Saudi women will be permitted in June to drive for the first time. Women have also recently been allowed to attend public concerts and sporting events, and they were permitted to vote for the first time as recently as 2015. 

And as the country’s economy has stagnated due to low oil prices, women have been encouraged to join the labor market—many have started to participate in the food service industry. But some experts say these changes fall short and only work to highlight the rampant discrimination women experience in the conservative Muslim kingdom.

“This is, in fact, an outrageous announcement,” Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi scholar, told Newsweek. “This announcement exposes the level of discrimination against women. Even if this step goes into effect tomorrow, women remain unable to perform full notary services. Saudi monarchy legal doctrine is that women are a lower form of human and cannot be trusted to perform full notary services.”

It wasn’t until 2004 that Saudi Arabia introduced reforms permitting women’s institutes of higher education to offer law degrees. The first female lawyers graduated around 2008, but they weren’t permitted to appear in court until as recently as 2013. Before that, some women were employed as legal consultants but were not officially recognized as lawyers.

Female unemployment in Saudi Arabia is estimated to be around 33 percent.  

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